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I Watched This Game: Canucks 2, Maple Leafs 4

It's amazing what one personnel change has done to the NHL landscape. Three weeks ago, when the Canucks played the Red Wings, the departure of Mike Babcock was clear. The Red Wings were once one of the league's top puck possession teams.

It's amazing what one personnel change has done to the NHL landscape. Three weeks ago, when the Canucks played the Red Wings, the departure of Mike Babcock was clear. The Red Wings were once one of the league's top puck possession teams. Now that look about as structureless as a drive through the Canadian prairies. Meanwhile, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Babcock's new team, suddenly seem as though they have a defensive strategy. What's that about? This is no longer the NHL of my youth.

That said, it's possible the Leafs looked like a rehabilitated, tightly-structured team because the Canucks stood in such contrast. They couldn't make crisp passes, they couldn't hold onto the puck and, worst of all, they couldn't get any of their goals to count. They never really seemed in this game, which is saying something, because they were one of only two teams participating. And I should know -- I watched this game.

  • About a week ago I said that I was drinking the Ryan Miller Kool Aid. Things have changed since then. The Kool Aid has changed. At first, it was raspberry, which is a hot flavour. But now it's grape, the worst flavour, and I think it's time to put the Kool Aid away. Miller has looked dodgy for several starts in a row now, and dodgy is totally the wrong adjective for a guy that's supposed to let everything hit him. If the Canucks went to Jacob Markstrom to close out the trip, I'd be pleased -- unless they only went to him to tell him Ryan Miller was starting.
  • I don't normally agree with Don Cherry, but he had a point regarding Yannick Weber's defending on the Leafs' first goal. Weber's a small guy, and his "don't hurt me" stance makes him even smaller. He's not exactly taking away the shot, is he? Nor is he doing anything to prevent comparisons to George Michael Bluth.
  • Chris Higgins took one faceoff in this game. It was the first faceoff he's taken all season. Unsurprisingly, he lost it, which would normally be worthy of little more than a shrug, except it was the lost faceoff that led to the Leafs' second-period powerplay goal. With the Canucks down two men and Bo Horvat one of the offenders in the box, it left Willie Desjardins with few other faceoff options. Henrik Sedin had just come off. Brandon Sutter's still injured. Jared McCann and Adam Cracknell aren't part of the three-man PK unit, and even Alex Burrows, who might have been the first winger option, was unavailable, since he was the other guy in the box. That's rough. I might have gone to Cracknell anyway. if he'd won the faceoff and the puck had exited the zone, he could have had time to change and get Higgins on before the Leafs regained the zone. I guess what I'm saying is, there ws an option and, in hindsight, at least, Willie blew it. 
  • Jannik Hansen and the Sedins were great again, as usual. Hansen finished an impressing plus-18 in even-strength corsi. He also got the Canucks on the board late in the second. After taking a feed from Daniel Sedin at the Leafs' blueline, Hansen bobbled it like every Canuck did on every pass tonight. It jumped into Dion Phaneuf's skates, and Hansen pivoted, digging it out, stepping outside Phaneuf, then unleashing the puck like it was Walter at the beach
  • Fun fact about that goal: it probably wouldn't have counted if the official had noticed Henrik Sedin holding onto Nazem Kadri's sweater at the beginning of the clip, and blown his whistle like he was supposed to.
  • The Canucks scored one other goal that counted, and if there was a positive takeaway from this game, it's that this goal came on the powerplay. That's new! After some crisp, quick puck movement -- a rarity from the first-unit, which tends to mosey -- Yannick Weber fired a one-timer that touched Alex Burrows but not James Reimer on the way in. It was a great demonstration of what the Canucks need to do on their powerplays going forward: score a damn goal. 
  • Willie Desjardins has shown a reluctance to use his kids late in close games, and on the Leafs' fourth goal, his worst nightmares came to life. Blame for that goal rests squarely on the shoulders of Jake Virtanen, who was being counted on to gain the zone. Instead he coughed the puck up with his entire team going the wrong way, and the Leafs made them pay. That strikes me as a benchable offence, although I hope it doesn't happen. I would hate to see Virtanen have a bench thrown at him, Robbie Ftorek-style.
  • That said, if I'm benching anyone after this loss -- say, so as to get Hunter Shinkaruk into the last game of the trip -- it's Sven "Bench me" Baertschi, who was one of two Canucks to muster zero shots (the other being Bo Horvat, who has other uses). He was a negative force in this game, bobbling passes, taking the play out of high percentage areas, and showing some truly poor puck management. On this night, at least, Baertschi was the wrong kind of offensive player.
  • Finally, I'm not sure what's more lamentable: That the Canucks lost to the Leafs, that this loss ruined that great stat about how all the Canucks' losses this season have been by one goal, or that the Canucks still have the Crap Mantle. I'm leading towards the one-goal thing, just because the Canucks almost salvaged it. Radim Vrbata scored within the final 10 seconds. But then, because the hockey gods wouldn't even leave us the moral victory, the goal was taken away. Why do you hate us, hockey gods, and what sacrifice do you require?